Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis (European première)

Posted: February 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis (European première)

Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis, Patrick Centre, Birmingham, February 16

#Je Suis

Aakash Odedra Company in #Je Suis (photo: Sean Goldthorpe)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I picked up recently a copy of Arundhati Roy’s 2001 polemic The Algebra of Infinite Justice. About the role of the artist in our post-9/11 society she writes: ‘Painters, writers, singers, actors, dancers, film-makers, musicians — they are meant to fly, to push at the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look. If you limit the trajectory of their flight, if you weight their wings with society’s existing notions of morality and responsibility, if you truss them up with preconceived values, you subvert their endeavour.’ Roy’s concern here is the insidious nature of censorship, a form of oppression that is the subject of Aakash Odedra’s new work, #Je Suis, created for the post-hashtag-Charlie age and given its European première at the Patrick Centre in Birmingham. Having met a group of Turkish dancers while teaching in Istanbul, Odedra promised that when he had his own company he would create a work for them. As he writes in the program, ‘#Je Suis began as a conversation with these extraordinary dancers about what it is like to be living in Turkey right now, but quickly grew to occupy a much more universal landscape.’ In its seamless unity of artistic and polemic intentions, #Je Suis suggests a direct lineage from Kurt Joos’s The Green Table — to which there are references — but also from Roy’s ethical thinking in Odedra’s questioning of cultural bias. ‘The piece explores oppression in all its guises, layers and contexts. It acknowledges that some acts of oppression are more loudly heard and deeply felt than others. While #JeSuisCharlie brought solidarity, comfort and solace to a world grieving the horrific attacks in Paris 2015, other equally appalling attacks took place in Kabul and Istanbul, but failed to capture the attention of (social) media in quite the same way.’

The result is a work in which the feral quality of the choreography and the mastery of the dancing match the intensity of its subject. #Je Suis erases the divide so often seen between narrative and framing because these dancers are the subject of both. There is just enough setting — a long table and chairs, a radio, a hanging lamp, a pile of papers, a rubber stamp and a microphone — and costumes (all conceived by Ryan Dawson Laight) to suggest, with Alessandro Barbieri’s dense lighting, a claustrophobic interrogation room that is everywhere and nowhere. The lighting works with the choreography in the way its thick haze can dissolve unnecessary details into the dark or illuminate them when needed. Clearly the creative team, with Nicki Wells as composer and Lou Cope as dramaturg, are all on the same page, but it is the dancing that holds the attention in the space because it gets under the surface of both terror and resistance. As Odedra writes, ‘Notions of oppression are not specific to any time, country or religion. Sometimes the oppressor is a political figure, sometimes a culture or sometimes a friend; and sometimes, of course, it is inside us: our fear, cowardice, expectation and doubt.’ In their shifting relationship to each other the seven dancers invoke the ambiguity in these forms of oppression with an intensity and fluidity that blasts through the fourth wall and buries their emotional generosity in our hearts and minds, reminding us not of a specific narrative but of a disturbingly pervasive and volatile phenomenon.

#Je Suis is constructed on an appeal to apparent contradictions — the freedom of expression to convey a state of oppression is central — and the dual symbolism of physical language and of everyday objects. Animal gesture becomes an expression of both domination and subservience and virtuosity is the pitch of both. The radio set becomes, in white-gloved hands, a puppet that is either a source of solidarity or the voice of authority; the lamp is both instrument of illumination and of interrogation, and the headpieces of wrapped plastic hint at the facelessness of oppression while protecting specific identity. This thread of duality maintains a tension in the work that the dancers weave into a rich fabric of experience enhanced by their humility of approach. They do not set out to change the world, nor to propagandize, but to express their life in all its fullness from a perspective of freedom and its absence. Odedra dedicates #Je Suis ‘to all people whose stories and plights have not yet been “hashtagged”…It comes from the belief that the strength of the collective, and our ability to speak out and together, will see us through to brighter times.’

In short, #Je Suis is both vital and unforgettable.

 

Preview performances of #Je Suis at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award 2017.


Katie Dale-Everett Dance, Digital Tattoo

Posted: May 13th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Katie Dale-Everett Dance, Digital Tattoo

KDE Dance, Digital Tattoo, The Circle Arts Centre, Portslade, April 21

Caileen Bennett in Artefact 1 of Digital Tattoo (photo: John Hunter)

A new company, a new venue. Katie Dale-Everett, artistic director of KDE Dance, studied choreography at Falmouth University, graduating in 2014. She is a freelance dancer, teacher and choreographer and has wasted no time in putting together and performing projects with a focus on how dance can be written and read. In Digital Tattoo she is exploring writing dance in the service of a social project. In this context, Dale-Everett’s writing takes on the French use of the word ‘écrire’ (to write) to describe the notation of the choreographic process whereas in English we prefer the verbs ‘to make’ or ‘to create’.

Recently I have seen different approaches to writing dance: Joe Garbett’s work No. Company takes its point of departure from choreographic text messages; Fevered Sleep’s choreographic performance of Men & Girls Dance is wrapped in a written project, and here in Digital Tattoo is a trio of works within a single program that comments on the concept of privacy in social media. Such an approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Whereas dance can provide an emotional entrance to the understanding of a social concept, there is always a danger that the written aspect, if taken too literally, will take precedence over its imaginative choreographic content, that the image becomes too directly linked to its meaning. It doesn’t have to; it is worth remembering that fairy tales in their written forms were imaginative vehicles for understanding social concepts or cultural values even if today the production values and aspects of the performance — in say the balletic form of The Sleeping Beauty — tend to obscure those lessons. Dealing with contemporary social concepts through dance is thus a complex balance between the rational and the imaginative, one that Dale-Everett sets out to resolve by dividing Digital Tattoo into three separate elements.

The first, Artefact 1, is a short film, subsequently picked up by Channel 4’s Random Acts, with a simple overlay of social media images on a naked female torso, equating privacy with sensuality. The underlying focus of the tripartite program is the notion of the Right to be Forgotten — the right to erase our online footprint whenever we choose. In the film (with John Hunter as director of photography), we see a woman, Caileen Bennett, reaching round her back to erase the projected images by frenzied scratching but the merging of the two surfaces is an illusion. All we see is the scratched red marks underneath the images becoming deeper and more painful while Bennett’s breathing becomes more strained and frantic. The message, like the image, is simple and strong.

The second element, Conversations about the Digital, brings us back into the everyday through a performative quiz on stage with eight willing members of the audience (one male, seven females on this occasion), each with his or her own smartphone. The quiz consists of a series of recorded questions about smartphone usage to which the participants — classified demographically at the beginning as either digital immigrants (born before 1980) or digital natives — respond through gestures, movements, selfies and tweets. The goal is to promote awareness of our online digital presence, the influence it has on our social behaviour and on our understanding of our world (fake news is a current hot topic). Even though the questions stimulate an element of self-reflection, the self-confessional nature of the staged format leaves too much wiggle room for dissimulation which waters down the effect.

The third element, Digital Tattoo, is essentially a recapitulation of the first two in a danced duet performed by Jonathan Mewett and Sophia Sednova with a musical score by Tom Sayers that traces the development of their online meeting, its development and, once concluded, a unilateral effort to erase it from digital memory. Even if the preceding context informs our understanding of it, the structure of the duet is clear (as one would expect with Lou Cope as dramaturg), so that it could stand alone in its depiction of love at first byte, highlighting the self-comment, self-deprecation and self-consciousness engendered by the creation of an online relationship. Dale-Everett enhances the choreographic message with an effective use of digital light (developed with the help of Nic Sandiland), giving Mewett and Sednova the ability to use their fingers as on a keyboard to write on each other’s bodies their interjections and exclamations expressed through ubiquitous emojis. Real life events, like a scene at a party where Sednova loses control, are witnessed through selfie gestures as they might appear on a tagged Facebook page with self-accusatory hashtags.

It might seem counter-intuitive to depict an online relationship in a choreographic duet; the structure is necessarily complex, constantly blurring the distinctions between online and offline. My principal concern is that the educational framework of Digital Tattoo holds back the emotional aspect of the choreography; while Mewett and Sednova are convincing as its exponents, it appears circumscribed by its didactic function. In using dance for purposes that are not inherently choreographic this will always be a danger, even if the social orientation of the project is effectively served.